We have what aging leader Ken Dychwald calls an “Age Wave.” Ken, a longtime friend of aging activist Maggie Kuhn, has talked about this age wave for decades. And, it’s here.
In a recent article, “How Older Adult Demographics Will Rock Your World,” Anne Hays Egan outlined some important trends, issues and some key things to remember. Demographic trend watchers tell us that older adults are the fastest growing age cohort in the U.S.
Within the group of older adults, those aged 80 and older are the fastest growing subgroup (Pew Research.) Los Alamos has the longest average lifespan in New Mexico, with the average person living to 86.2 years. (LACHC Health Profile) The Con Alma Foundation’s research discovered that New Mexico, now 39 in its proportion of adults aged 65 and over will rise to being 4 in the nation in its proportion of older adults within a few short decades.
This has significant ramifications for all of us. And for all aspects of our lives.
Benefits of Aging
One of the ways that Los Alamos has benefited from the age wave is in the civic engagement of our community’s older adults. People aged 50 and older are very active as volunteers, working on boards, developing groups to respond to community needs and issues, and improving the community in so many ways. The Los Alamos Retired and Senior Organization’s RSVP program reports that hundreds of older adults donate hundreds of thousands of hours in volunteer time each year – and that’s just through the RSVP program.
There are others, to be sure. And the LACHC’s Health Profile estimates conservatively, the value of these volunteers is in excess of $2 million per year. Our community benefits from Amazing Aging every day, from the wisdom and the experience of our elders, the value of volunteer work and civic engagement, and the leadership older adults provide in Los Alamos and White Rock.
Growing Needs as We Age
Aging also means for many the need for additional supports, especially as one becomes older and more frail. Like people in most other communities in New Mexico and the U.S., Los Alamos older adults face new challenges, and issues like falls become serious concerns. And our older adult population has a higher than state average incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Many of us need a little more help at home, initially with a few tasks, and later on with more substantial caregiving. Our community has excellent resources to help people as they age and deal with these challenges. The Los Alamos and White Rock Senior Centers provide a warm network that has been a “home away from home” for many, with lunch and home delivered meals, transportation, and programs that include educational, exercise and nutrition – and much more.
Los Alamos Visiting Nurse Service provides home care and hospice services to area residents, allowing people greater choice and more independence while being treated for a medical condition or coping with a terminal prognosis. Non medical home care is offered by agencies like Home Instead, A Nurse in the Family, Comfortkeepers and others. The Los Alamos Retirement Community includes Sombrillo Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center and Aspenridge Lodge Independent Living Facility.
Middle Aged Adults Caring for One’s Elderly Parents
Caregiving for older adults, or elder care, is one of the biggest challenges facing baby boomers, with an anticipated cumulative cost of more than $3 trillion dollars, according to Daily Finance. Caring for elderly parents is expected to bankrupt 30 percent of adult children in the U.S. and the costs for caregiving are expected to double by the year 2040, according to two recent articles in The New York Times.
An increasing proportion of middle aged adults find themselves in a position where they need to provide some level of care for an elderly parent or parents who are growing more frail. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of caregivers are women in their middle years, who may also be caring for teenagers or young adults in college. In fact, almost 75 percent of caregivers are middle aged women who spend 18 hours a week caring for their mothers. They are the “sandwich generation,” caught in between the needs of their children and their parents.
The baby boomers of today are likely to spend more years caring for a parent than for their children (“Caregiving to Aging Parents,” by Durant and Christian, Forum on Public Policy.) And pressures are increasing as the number of frail elderly continues to grow.
Key Things to Remember
It is important for us to realize that older adults bring incredible assets to our communities, and need additional resources and supports as they age. Some are able to pay for these services, and others need help in doing so. Key things to remember include:
- This demographic trend of the growing older adult population is continuing to grow, and will not peak for many years.
- Older adults provide communities with a huge potential resource for civic engagement, as volunteers, advocates, and mentors. Their potential is often underutilized.
- Current community resources are not adequate to the task, and more funding is needed in order to maintain services to this fast growing population.
- Many agencies can develop sliding fee scale services, which would allow them to expand their program offerings and diversify their budgets, receiving revenue from older adults that can pay, to help subsidize services for those with limited incomes.
- We need policy changes at state and federal levels that will allow for more support for core community services and additional revenue streams including third party payor options.
Editor’s note: The public is invited to attend the Amazing Aging Town Hall for more information about Amazing Aging, trends, and community resources sponsored by the Older Adult Network of the Los Alamos Community Health Council.
The event is 5:15-6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at the Bradbury Science Museum – RSVPs are not required.